News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

Three Irish bank execs jailed (not before time) for ‘dishonest, corrupt’ and Anglo Irish fraud

David Drumm described by judge as the ‘driving force’ behind €7.2bn banking conspiracy

   

A judge has said the former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm appeared to be the driving force behind the €7.2bn conspiracy that led to three banking executives being jailed yesterday.

Judge Martin Nolan made the comments as he sent the men to jail for terms ranging between two and three-and-a-half years.

Former Anglo chief risk officer Willie McAteer (66), ex-Anglo treasury executive John Bowe (52) and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey (56) showed little emotion as the sentences were handed down.

Their first night in jail was spent at Mountjoy among all of Ireland’s criminals, where they were processed and kept under close observation, as is the practice with new inmates.

A decision will be made in the coming days on where each man will serve out his sentence.

McAteer, of Greenrath, Tipperary town, was sentenced to three and-a-half years; Bowe, of Glasnevin, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and Casey, from Raheny, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and nine months.

All three were convicted in June of conspiring with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme in September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. They had denied the charges.

The verdicts followed an 89-day trial, the longest criminal trial in the history of the State and the jury spent a total of 65 hours deliberating.

The case came to trial following a lengthy investigation, which began in 2009.

The judge said that the scheme was “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”, as it gave a distorted impression of Anglo’s accounts to shareholders and depositors.

“From the evidence, it appears to me the driving force was Mr Drumm,” he said during the sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the three defendants were involved in the scheme and knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

Drumm was not a defendant in this trial, but is due to face similar conspiracy charges next year.

 Sentencing McAteer to three-and-half years, Judge Nolan said he had held a senior position in the bank.

Although it appeared that Drumm was driving the scheme, McAteer was seen as a leader within the bank and he could have objected.

“It is grossly reprehensible what he did and a great shame on him,” said the judge.

McAteer authorised these transfers when he knew that what he was doing was “deceitful, underhand and corrupt”.

Sentencing Bowe to two years, the judge said he was “a lesser functionary in the bank”.

The judge described him as the “de facto treasurer”. He was a man of considerable experience and should have known what he was doing was wrong.

“In law, following orders is not a defence,” the judge said.

Bowe “failed to act with integrity and honesty in these matters” and had behaved reprehensibly by going along with it.

Sentencing Casey to two years and nine months, Judge Nolan acknowledged that he had become involved in the scheme as part of the so-called ‘Green Jersey’ agenda, where Irish banks were encouraged to assist others in a time of crisis.

Although Anglo was the author of the scheme, Casey authorised Irish Life & Permanent’s involvement and had behaved “disgracefully”.

“This was a grave error of judgment,” the judge said. “He should have known and did know that this was a sham transaction.”

Earlier, the judge said the crime had arisen during a period when people in the banking sector “were operating under great stress”.

The judge had taken into account submissions on behalf of the defendants that they had made no direct profit or reward from their crimes. He said all had acted in what they believed was the best interest of the companies they worked for.

A conspiracy? 

Judge Nolan had taken into account their background, what each man had achieved in life, their contribution to the community and that they had been good family men.

Each of them had been the subject of odium and ridicule, had endured a lot of stress and had lost their jobs. However, they were involved in a conspiracy where two blue-chip publicly quoted companies conspired to manipulate the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

It was decided in Anglo that it needed to hit a certain “corporate number” for banking deposits.

“It seemed Mr Drumm and the top management at Anglo decided this corporate number was important,” said the judge.

When this could not be achieved legitimately, a “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt scheme” was entered into.

The public, he said, was entitled to probity from blue-chip companies. “If we cannot rely on probity, then we lose all trust in such institutions,” he said.

“People are entitled to rely on the integrity and honesty of top firms. In this case, honesty and integrity were sorely lacking.”

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

The scheme at the centre of the case was designed so that the books of Anglo Irish Bank could look much healthier than they actually were amid the global financial crisis in 2008.

The court heard that following the so-called ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’, when Anglo’s shares slumped by 20pc, the bank’s executive directors decided Anglo should show “a good corporate number to the market”, meaning that it needed to increase its corporate deposits.

Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) was approached and a back-to-back transaction was arranged whereby Anglo placed €750m with IL&P and the IL&P group gave Anglo a corporate deposit from its Irish Life Assurance Corporation, a non-banking entity managed by IL&P.

In June, another deal took place, with Anglo transferring €3bn to IL&P and IL&P transferring a portfolio of home mortgages to Anglo.

Over that summer, Anglo drew up a list of 50 funding initiatives, but by September most of these had fallen away. The trial heard evidence that David Drumm asked a manager in Anglo’s treasury department if IL&P would do another set of transactions worth up to €7bn that month. These were to be included in Anglo’s year-end figures.

What resulted was a series of nine ‘rotational transactions’ between September 26 and 30, with €7.2bn moved from Anglo to IL&P, with IL&P sending the money back, via Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo. The trial heard that the transactions were arranged “with considerable difficulty”.

Judge Martin Nolan described the dishonest scheme as a “conspiracy on the public”. Shareholders and depositors were entitled to rely on public accounts, but were instead given a distorted view of the financial strength of Anglo, he said.

Does the Irish Government really have the bottle that it takes to handle the Brexit fallout? 

‘The position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it’

   

NI First Minister Arlene Foster, British PM Theresa May, and NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Monday.

As the Dáil rose for the summer recess last week, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in Leinster House – and not only on the Government side.

It has been a tumultuous six months which has seen an arduous election campaign, an inconclusive result that necessitated some serious improvisation by the major parties to enable a government to be formed after a tense 10-week stalemate, and some serious hiccups as the new Government finally got down to work.

By far, however, the most dramatic event happened outside of Leinster House’s remit – namely the British vote to leave the European Union. How the Government responds to this will be the biggest challenge in the next Dáil term and perhaps in modern day Irish politics, and the interests of the EU will now play a key part in the approach Ireland takes to the Brexit negotiations.

The biggest task facing the Government is to juggle two now competing interests – our relationships with the UK and the EU. No two countries within the EU have a closer relationship than Ireland and the UK – strong cultural ties, a history of Irish emigration to the UK, and huge volumes of trade and movement of people in both directions.

Despite various changes over the past century – independence in 1922, the adoption of the new Constitution in 1937, the declaration of the Republic in 1949, the break with sterling in 1979, and Ireland joining the euro without Britain in 1999 – these ties have remained very strong. On top of all of this there is the position of Northern Ireland, which looks likely to play a central role in the post-Brexit fallout.

Given all of this, it is little wonder the two countries joined the then EEC on the same day in 1973. Back then it was inconceivable that Ireland would take a different approach to the UK on the question of membership. In the 43 years which have followed it is fair to say that Ireland has been a far more enthusiastic member than the UK, and indeed in many respects, it has enabled it to detach itself from the UK’s bosom and assert its independence.

Yet there is no doubt that the Republic would much rather not be faced with this split with the UK and there is a palpable sense of dismay – resentment even – at the UK for leaving us in the lurch. What then are the major faultlines as Ireland attempts to juggle these two competing interests?

The border with Northern Ireland

Without doubt, the biggest issue facing us is the position of the border. One cannot underestimate the positive impact that the opening of border roads has had; it was one of the most important practical impacts of the peace process during the 1990s. The reintroduction of a hard border would be unacceptable to communities in the area, not to mention the costs and complexity of enforcing it.

Yet on the other hand a desire to impose greater restrictions on immigration from the EU was one of the main motivating factors in Britain voting for Brexit. It is difficult to reconcile this with an open border. There have been some suggestions that a compromise may be reached that will entail free movement across the border but with passport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This however is hardly something Unionists will welcome.

Insider senses that the proponents of Brexit wholly overlooked this conundrum and their response to it has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. It is only now beginning to dawn on them that the position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it.

In the five weeks since the referendum, the our Government has focused heavily on the impact on the peace process. This is widely seen by observers as a clever move – at an EU level the peace process is seen as one of the European project’s successes and there is a real sense in Brussels that the EU played a positive role in it. The view is that stressing the impact on the peace process is likely to carry more weight in Brussels than in, for instance focusing on trade along the border, important and all as that is to people residing in the area too.

Making Brexit work for Britain

Another conundrum for the Government in Dublin is how to square the need to maintain free trading relations with the UK, with the likelihood that the EU will seek to conclude a single EU/UK trade agreement. The level of business done between the UK and Ireland is huge with each counting the other among its main trading partners; indeed trade with Ireland is more important to the UK than trade with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

To have restrictions imposed in this area would be potentially calamitous for Ireland. For virtually our entire history free trade with the UK has been taken for granted and trading restrictions between the two countries would be an alien concept. Our Government must take a firm line at EU level on this point. Of course the free movement of people between the two countries and the Common Travel Area is a key part of this.

There is also a sense of urgency on this point for the Government, even ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. There is a huge degree of investment made by businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A period of uncertainty ahead of Brexit runs the risk of businesses postponing investment decisions – there are already signs of this – as they wait to see what happens, thereby running the risk of an economic slowdown in Ireland.

Leaving aside the key aspects of British/Irish relations that need to be weighed, at a broader level, the issue that carries most importance for Ireland, and an area of potential division with other EU member states, is whether Brexit works for the UK. From an Irish perspective, notwithstanding the disagreement with the stance Britain has taken and the sense of disappointment or betrayal even that Insider referred to earlier, it is important that it does.

At an EU level there will be a desire not to be seen to reward Britain for leaving and a sense that it needs to be seen to suffer some negative consequences from its decision. While obviously not wanting to damage its own interests by overly hampering the UK, the EU will wish to be seen flexing its muscles. From an Irish perspective however, in light of the close relations between the nations and the importance of the UK economy to the Irish economy, it is important that Britain does well outside the EU. This will be a tough circle to square.

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

The Brexit negotiations, and protecting Ireland’s interests in, among others the areas that Insider has referenced, will be the Government’s primary objective for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some consideration must be given to a vision for Ireland’s future in the changed circumstances that will follow Britain’s eventual exit.

As Insider noted there have been several breaks with Britain over the years, many of them resulting from EU membership. Indeed many Irish politicians – in particular from FG over the years – have viewed EU membership as a means of Ireland broadening its horizons beyond the UK. Arguably Brexit offers proponents of this a golden opportunity to put this further into practice.

On the other hand, for a considerable number of Irish people, relations with the UK will always be of paramount importance and so this is another balancing act that needs to be managed. Then there is the question of the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Recent talk of a border poll may have been premature but nevertheless reflects an acceptance that things could be about to change radically and that in the medium term everything is on the table.

Finally, we must return to events earlier this year, namely the inconclusive result thrown up by the General Election and the advent of ‘new politics’. This is a topic Insider hopes to return to in greater detail in the autumn – assuming a General Election has not derailed it all by then! – but for the time being will note that it changes the context in which we approach the challenges of Brexit and the negotiations to follow.

Clearly it will not be the Government side alone that will have an input when it comes to determining the strategy to be followed. Dáil arithmetic dictates that the Opposition parties will also have an input, but given the strategic importance of this matter, that was likely to be the way in any case. The Opposition parties have some interesting contributions to make, with FF leader Micheál Martin being an experienced former foreign affairs minister and Sinn Féin bringing some interesting perspective to the North/South dimension in particular, with its role in the Northern Executive.

Theoretically this is one area where the ‘new politics’ should thrive. Insider expects a reasonable degree of consensus but there may be some rancour about whether the Government is pushing Ireland’s interests aggressively enough on those occasions where the EU/UK tradeoffs that Insider has mentioned come to the fore.

It will be a tumultuous period ahead and a real test of the political system and the diplomatic corps. Even in the context of our changed politics it promises to leave the day-to-political dramas in the shade.

Irish car insurance premiums said to have gone up 70% since 2013

   

Concerns are being raised about the continued rise in the cost of insuring your car.

Insurance companies are said to be clamping down on the types of drivers and cars that they are willing to provide cover for.

Premiums are reported to have gone up by more than 70% since 2013.

The motor industry has issued a warning saying the rise in costs is showing no signs of easing.

Broker Jonathan Hehir says the sector is haemorrhaging money: “We’ll have to take the reports they give us on face value because they weren’t afraid to publish when they were making money.

“So I went through the reports recently and if we go back to 2007 they weren’t afraid to show profit in motoring insurance of around €500m at that time.

“That figure has gradually gone down over the ten years and the last time they are shown to be making money was back in 2012 and there was a slight profit on it and since then they have shown losses of hundreds of millions of losses in the motoring insurance sector.”

An hour of Exercise a day may offset a sitting’s toll on your health

   

An hour of Exercise a Day May Offset Sitting’s Toll on Health?

Just one hour of physical activity a day — something as simple as a brisk walk or a bicycle ride — may undo the increased risk of early death that comes with sitting eight hours or more on a daily basis, a new study suggests.

“These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work or commuting,” said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund. He is a professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

“Unfortunately, only 25% of our sample exercised an hour a day or more,” he said.

The study also found that watching TV for three hours or more a day was linked with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity except among those who were the most physically active.

However, even among those who exercised the most, the risk of premature death was significantly increased if they watched five hours of TV a day or more, the researchers added.

It’s not TV, per se, that is associated with an increased risk of dying early; rather, TV is a marker for sitting and not being active, Ekelund said.

In their review of 16 previously published studies that included more than one million people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups: those who got about 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day; 25 to 35 minutes a day; 50 to 65 minutes a’ day; and 60 to 75 minutes a day.

The increased risk of early death ranged from 12% to 59%, depending on how much exercise the participants got, the findings showed.

“Indeed, those belonging to the most active group, and who are active about 60 to 75 minutes per day, seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day,” Ekelund said.

“Sit less, move more, and the more you move the better,” he suggested.

The report, which did not prove that inactivity caused early death, was published online July 27 in The Lancet.

According to Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “This important analysis fortifies the increasingly clear verdict from a large and growing body of evidence addressing physical activity and health: all movement is good movement.”

Evidence is clear that moderately vigorous exercise has an array of health benefits, Katz said.

“If you don’t exercise but can stand often, do. If you can’t stand often but can exercise, do,” he added. “Better still, do both. It’s clear: all movement is good movement.”

Not only does physical inactivity increase the risk of early death, it’s expensive, according to another study published in the same journal issue.

In that study, researchers estimated the cost of being physically inactive based on the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer. In 2013 dollars, the study authors estimated that inactivity costs the United States about $28 billion annually.

“The current economic cost of physical inactivity is borne mainly by high-income countries. However, as low- and middle-income countries develop, and if the current trajectory of inactivity continues, so too will the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries who are currently poorly equipped to deal with chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Melody Ding, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a statement.

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?

    

Biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish (above) has tried out her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy with, she says, amazing results. Too good to be true?

‘We’re trying to hit the biggest point of suffering in the industrialised world.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Elizabeth Parrish is CEO of BioViva, a Seattle-based biotech company working to develop treatments to slow the ageing process. In April, the company revealed that Parrish herself had undergone “the first gene therapy successful against human ageing”. The treatment, it claimed, had reversed the biological age of her immune cells by 20 years.

“There are a lot of fantastic conclusions that [people] can jump to,” says Parrish – “defeating death, or people becoming immortal, or things like that. What we’re trying to do is hit the biggest point of suffering right now in the industrialised world, which is the diseases of ageing.”

In September 2015, Parrish, then 44, flew to Colombia to receive two experimental gene therapies. One was a myostatin inhibitor, a drug that is being tested as a treatment for muscle loss. The other was a telomerase gene therapy – the drug that BioViva claims has reversed her cells’ biological age, by lengthening parts of her genetic material called telomeres.

Genes are held in twisted molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of these chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres protect the important genetic material from damage that can lead to disease-causing malfunction or cell death. Telomeres also allow the cell and its DNA to divide, but as cells divide a portion of the telomeres is lost until, after a finite number of divisions, the cell dies, a process that might contribute to the human ageing process.

If a cat has nine lives, then a dividing human cell has about 50 to 70 – unless, the thinking goes, you lengthen the telomeres to extend the cell’s lifespan and increase its ability to withstand damage. The gene therapy that Parrish received is designed to do just that by encouraging the cell to produce telomerase, a protein that repairs telomeres.

The treatment is highly controversial. Because BioViva had not done the necessary pre-clinical work to progress to human studies, the US Food and Drug Administration did not authorise Parrish’s experiment – hence her trip to an unnamed clinic in Colombia.

BioViva claims that six months after treatment the telomeres in Parrish’s white blood cells had lengthened by 9%. It was an announcement met by a mixture of derision and incredulity by many scientists, who cited the lack of proper scientific procedure. “We used third-party testing for everything,” asserts Parrish. “We used a standard telomere testing system that doctors sell and patients can buy over the internet. By that test, it said my telomeres in my [white blood cells] extended by the equivalent of 20 years.”

The scientists’ scepticism goes further than the reliability of the company’s testing systems. On its website, BioViva claims that its work builds on that of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. In a 2012 study, Blasco’s findings suggested that a similar telomerase gene therapy could increase the median lifespan of mice by around 20%. Her work since has focused on assessing whether the technology can improve outcomes in mice with heart and blood diseases that originate in very short telomeres.

Blasco does not associate herself with BioViva’s work and she has no relation with the company or with Parrish. “Clinical validation of our telomerase gene therapy strategy, as with any other therapies, should be achieved through rigorous trials validated and backed by the regulatory agencies,” she says.

We should be able to say: This didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells – let’s just run a test

On her company profile Parrish describes herself as a “humanitarian, entrepreneur and innovator” and “a leading voice for genetic cures”. Absent from that list is the word “scientist”. She also describes herself as “patient zero” for these treatments – a term some would take issue with. “Patient zero” is a typically used to describe the first patient in an infectious disease outbreak, rather than the first patient to have received a treatment. A better description, some would argue, is that hers was an n = 1 study (a study on only one person).

“Perhaps she is patient zero, but only for the spread of the pseudoscience that’s going to grow from her story,” says Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Caulfield is concerned that Parrish’s work lacks scientific rigour and is at risk of being picked up by unscrupulous practitioners aware of the selling power of anti-ageing treatments. “People forget that most clinical trials don’t pan out,” he says. “Drugs often look really promising in mice but don’t pan out in people – they’re different animals.”

But Parrish, who says she has already had people contact her to ask if they can try her anti-ageing gene therapy, argues that enough animal studies have been conducted to move to humans. “I think we are doing things wrong. We should be able to say, ‘This looks promising, it didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells.’ So what we said [when deciding to test her company’s treatments] was, ‘Let’s just run a test; let’s see if this stuff is safe.’”

Parrish and her team say they plan to explore the effects of the gene therapy in other cells in her body, and to assess the effect of the muscle-loss treatment. Meanwhile, they are looking to test the treatments in more people, but first they need to find a country with less stringent requirements than the US. “We are still looking for a faster route,” says Parrish. “We have gone from country to country, with groups who are asking these countries to re-regulate. They will come in with new regulatory standards… with a fast track to get the most life-saving therapeutics to humans as fast as possible.”

While Caulfield admits that the drug development process is strict, he argues that it needs to be to maintain scientific rigour. “Sure, we’re all looking at ways to get effective drugs to clinics quicker but this idea of foreign shopping until you can find the regulatory framework that is most friendly to your idea about how science should be done is a terrible mistake,” he says. “Good science should be universal.”

Quick to distance himself from BioViva was George M Martin, professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Martin had agreed to be an adviser to the company after being visited at his university by Parrish but relinquished that role on hearing the news of Parrish’s self-experiment. “I resigned only weeks after accepting the invitation, I never attended a board meeting and I certainly had no inkling of her plans to carry out human interventions without any pre-clinical work,” he says.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and another of the BioViva’s advisers, is wary of the idea that he has “ties” with the company. “I wouldn’t call them ties,” he says. “I advise people who need advice and they clearly need advice.” Church says he advised the company to go through proper regulatory channels and to do the required pre-clinical work. “If you just let people run loose without any advice, especially if they don’t have training in medical research, then you’re inviting consequences.”

It’s a point, he notes, that was tragically highlighted by a gene therapy trial in France that is believed to have caused cancer in two participants in 2003, and the 1999 death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first person to die in a clinical trial for the therapy. Both failures, he says, set back the whole field. “Since then, the field has improved tremendously and is much safer but new drugs have to be tested in placebo controlled trials with animal testing first.”

And it’s not just scientists who are cautious about how advanced therapeutics such as gene therapies or those that use stem cells are handled. The public and policymakers, whose attitudes can either help or hinder potential medical advances, are also twitchy about science that tinkers with the inner workings of life. If the debate around the powerful new genome-editing tool, Crispr/Cas9, is anything to go by, Parrish’s approach to combating ageing won’t roll out without significant scrutiny.

Duncan Baird is a professor of Cancer and Genetics at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. He urges caution over Parrish’s impatient approach to unearthing treatments. “Life and ageing are too biologically complicated to start boiling it all down to these entities at the ends of chromosomes [telomeres],” he says. “To pick out one particular phenomenon of telomere length as a key determinant of ageing and say that if you’re going to lengthen telomeres you’re magically going to cure ageing, I think that’s fanciful.”

Without a much greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie ageing, such tampering can be dangerous, says Baird. One of the reasons telomeres have evolved to be the length they are, he says, is to limit the number of times a cell can proliferate and thus to limit its potential to be cancerous. “Meddling with a fundamentally important tumour-suppressive mechanism that has evolved in long-lived species like ours doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea.”

Attempts to combat ageing, and its myriad manifestations, do not belong to Parrish alone. Around the world, teams of dedicated researchers are doing the painstakingly thorough work needed to unpick the biological mysteries of ageing and, maybe one day, figure out how to tackle it. But, as so often with science, it seems success might lie in the very thing that Parrish refuses to accept: time itself.

 

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